Provo • When he was a youngster, Beau Hoge wanted to play running back because that’s the position his father, Merril Hoge, played in the National Football League. But the former Pittsburgh Steelers great persuaded his son to play quarterback because he has an additional blocker in front of him.
Well, Beau Hoge will get to realize his childhood dream for BYU this season, even if it means giving up the position he grew to love.
When BYU’s coaches said last month they wanted to whittle down the starting quarterback race as quickly as possible, they weren’t kidding. Hoge, a redshirt junior, lined up at the running back position Thursday afternoon as preseason training camp opened. He’s listed as QB/RB on the roster, but spoke as if the change is permanent.
“Last time I played running back was in the fifth grade,” he said. “It was kind of tough at first when they approached me about it. But at the end of the day, it is all about whatever is best for the team.”
So BYU’s quarterback derby is down to three: senior Tanner Mangum, sophomore Joe Critchlow and freshman Zach Wilson. Wilson looked especially sharp in the media viewing portion of practice, throwing a couple long touchdown passes in 7 on 7 drills..
Quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator Aaron Roderick said moving Hoge to running back is part of the plan to get the best 11 players on the field.
“Beau is one of the best athletes on this team. He’s got size, he’s got speed. He is versatile. He can do a lot of things,” Roderick said. “He was a great receiver in high school before he moved to quarterback. We know he can run with the ball. So we are giving him a shot right now.”
Matt Hadley, the senior who has played safety and linebacker, also took some handoffs on Thursday.
Hoge said he was approached with the idea of changing positions last April, shortly after spring camp ended. He talked through the potential change with his father, who was supportive.
“Whatever I want to do, and whatever makes me happy, my dad is all there and fully supportive,” he said. “He is excited for me to get on the field.”
Not surprisingly, Critchlow and Mangum also endorsed the move.
“Beau is an incredible athlete,” Critchlow said. “I feel confident with him anywhere on the field. If the coaches think he can help us at running back, so be it. It is going to be great handing off to him and having him blocking in the backfield, too.”
Roderick said the reps were divided evenly between the remaining three competitors for the starting QB position, and he will stay with that plan for the first two or three practices.
“And then we will see if somebody starts to separate a little bit,” Roderick said.
Coach Kalani Sitake called the first day of camp fairly routine, but noted there is a sense of urgency because of last year’s 4-9 record and because the Cougars meet Arizona in a month.
“We have to play a lot of football in camp,” Sitake said. “We are doing things differently than we have in the past. That’s because of what we need to get accomplished before the Arizona game. We have to take advantage of all the time we have. We are functioning like the pads are on right now. I can’t say we are tackling right now, but we are playing a lot of football — probably a lot more football than we have in the past by this time.”
As for a timetable to name a starting quarterback, Sitake said coaches want to get it done “as soon as possible.”
Moving one of the candidates to running back is a good way to start.